There is often nothing more relaxing and rejuvenating than experiencing a long holiday break. But returning from vacation and attempting to get back into a productive routine can feel like an arduous task. If you’re a working professional and a student with many responsibilities, getting back on track quickly is the key to keeping yourself from being overwhelmed. That’s why it’s important to have a strategy to help you pivot back to an academic mindset so you don’t push yourself too hard on the first day back and go into panic mode.
Whether you’re starting a new semester at Penn LPS Online or considering enrolling, read on for six concrete strategies to help you successfully re-focus on your studies and get the most out of your coursework.
1. Refine your routine
There’s a good chance that you may have felt stressed or burnt out before your holiday, so it makes sense to shake up your routine when you return and get back into the swing of things. The reality is that you must take care of your body if you want to be successful in your studies. A great place to start is to take stock of food, exercise, and sleep habits, which can tend to go south over a vacation. Make it a priority to get back onto a regular sleep schedule, commit to eating healthily, and carve some time out every day to get moving—even if it’s just a short walk around the block. If you feel your best physically, it will be easier to focus on academics when you need to, post-vacation.
If you have a space that you’ve devoted to studying—whether that’s an office or a spare bedroom—consider switching things up and finding a new environment to work in. Depending on your circumstances, this may involve moving to a quiet place outside of your residence. But if that’s not an option, you can also rework your existing space to make it more calm, comfortable, and conducive to studying. This will likely involve some troubleshooting. For example, if you live in an apartment, you can purchase earplugs or a noise machine to help block outside noise. Or, if your designated space is close to a shared living space, ask your children or partner to congregate in another area when you’re studying.
2. Create a study schedule
Next up, it’s time to re-organize and create a new study schedule. Whether you prefer to use a traditional planner or an online calendar or app, begin by going through your course syllabi and inputting project, test, and exam due dates. Then, consider your work and family responsibilities to help determine the most efficient days and times to devote to learning. If you’re used to studying in the mornings before work, consider whether it would be beneficial to revamp your routine and hit the books in the evening. If you find it more constructive to focus on academics in the early hours, then give that a try. The objective is to experiment and discover when productivity comes to you most easily and achieve a good work-life balance.
If you’re enrolled in multiple courses, it’s helpful for memory retention to rotate the subjects you study throughout the week rather than blocking out large chunks of time for the same topic. As you are scheduling your studies, be sure to consider which courses, readings, and projects you anticipate will be more challenging so you can devote extra time appropriately. Although it’s important to try and stick to your study schedule, there is room for flexibility throughout the semester as your needs and priorities change. It’s all about finding a system that works best for you academically, professionally, and personally.
3. Start small
When you return from vacation, grant yourself the buffer space to ease back into your coursework. It’s not realistic to try and jump into your studies at the same pace you were at before you left, as it can lead to sluggishness and burnout. Instead, focus on small, achievable daily tasks that you can check off your to-do list. Doing so can generate an immediate sense of satisfaction that stokes your motivation to keep going. These tasks can be as simple as logging into Canvas to review your syllabi, organizing your course materials, or creating brief study outlines. The hardest part of accomplishing any undertaking is often getting started—so make that your primary focus.
For example, if you’re registered for DATA 1010: Introduction to Data Analytics, approximately two weeks before the start of the term you must complete a pre-course module. This will involve downloading and setting up the required software to ensure it is correctly configured for your computer. This is a great example of a task that is necessary, but that can also be broken up into smaller parts. The first objective is to download and set up the software. Then you can move on to completing the module as well as gathering any questions you may have that require assistance. Supplementary support is available from teaching assistants for any issues that arise.
4. Take time to de-stress
Research has shown that taking purposeful breaks of 5 to 60 minutes when studying increases productivity, energy, and ability to focus.1 But what does a “purposeful” break look like? Some examples include taking a walk (ideally outside, if possible), indulging in a 15–20-minute nap, organizing your study area, listening to your favorite music or podcast, playing with your pet, or connecting with a friend. It’s also a good idea to give yourself a change of scenery when you take a time-out from studying as it can provide a mental re-set. Choose to do whatever you think will best relax you in the moment so you can return to your studies refreshed and refocused.
If you still have trouble concentrating after taking a break, then try one or more of the following:
Visualization: Mentally rehearse completing one of your study goals for the day. Focus on the relief and gratification you feel after mastering this task—and hold onto that experience.
Progressive muscle relaxation: To release tension in your body, slowly tighten, hold, and relax all your major muscle groups, starting with your feet and working up to your head.
Deep breathing: Take a deep breath through your nose for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and then exhale through the mouth for 8 seconds. Then repeat up to 5 times.
5. Avoid distractions and time-wasters
Particularly if you’re working from home, distractions from your children, partner, pets, or professional obligations can quickly cause your productivity to plummet. Before your scheduled study time, let everyone in your household know that you will be unavailable for an hour or two. Make it clear that you shouldn’t be interrupted unless there is an emergency. If possible, close the door to your study space and affix a “do not disturb” note.
Because some outside noise is unavoidable (especially if you live in a confined space or a city environment), you may also want to invest in noise-canceling headphones. If that’s not an option, playing music on regular earbuds can also effectively block distracting sounds—and research shows that listening to classical or instrumental music can help improve concentration.
Some additional actions you can take to avoid time-wasters include:
- Close all your email tabs
- Put your phone on silent or in airplane mode
- Download software to block distracting sites and apps during your study time
- Keep water and a healthy snack on hand
- Choose an accountability partner to report back to on your progress
- Accept that some distractions are inevitable and adjust accordingly
6. Set up a reward system
Whether you want to advance your career or pivot to a new field, as an adult learner, you likely have a concrete objective that motivates you to enhance your education. But it can also be helpful to set up a reward system that encourages you to meet your individual study goals. Depending on your preference, you can set up daily, weekly, or monthly incentives to help ensure that you stay inspired and on task.
Whether your reward involves planning your next vacation, scheduling a night out at your favorite restaurant, watching your favorite show, or meeting a friend for coffee, having something to look forward to can provide that extra boost you need to be successful. Juggling your education, career, and family obligations is an admirable feat. That’s why it’s so important to celebrate both your large and small successes, whether academic or otherwise. You deserve it!
Have you enrolled for the upcoming semester?
Registration is currently open! Explore exciting offerings including the Certificate in Science Foundations and Certificate in Social Difference, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. You can also view the Penn LPS Online course guide or perform an advanced course search to see the full range of what’s available.